What Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Has Taught Me

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is known as the gentle art. It was created by the Gracie family in Brazil in the 1920’s after Carlos Gracie learned Judo from a Japanese judoka. It developed into its own martial art through the years as BJJ evolved and techniques were developed. You might recognize the name or the style if you watch MMA fighting as it is a fundamental part of MMA grappling. 

I started BJJ in 2017 after I moved away from my hometown and quit a job that wreaked havoc on my mental state. The choice to start BJJ was more centered around self-defense than learning a martial art. I was living completely on my own for the first time and wanted to feel like I could handle myself. After some googling, I decided to join the local BJJ gym. I don’t think I knew exactly what I was getting into but I’ve learned a lot in the years I’ve been practicing. The pandemic and a move across the country has definitely slowed my progress, but I still practice weekly in a padded area in my home with my husband who also does BJJ. 

One of the first things you’ll learn in BJJ is get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

My first class I realized very quickly I would need to drop the need for comfort. People will be sitting on your chest, twisting your joints into uncomfortable positions and your face will get squashed into some awkward places. Nothing will feel good, unless you have the upperhand and when you start out, that will be pretty rare. Rolling, which is essentially the ‘wrestling’ part of BJJ, is hard, especially when you start. You’ll be gasping for air trying to keep up, your head will be spinning trying to figure out what you are doing.

As someone who is anxious and worried on a regular basis, this was difficult. No one likes being uncomfortable, but I was the type of person who would avoid so many things because I thought it would make me a little uncomfortable. BJJ has shown me that by putting myself out there, getting in uncomfortable situations, I end up learning so much more and leveling up my discomfort tolerance.

This also means dropping the ego.

When you roll with another person, there is a good chance the person you are rolling with is going to be better than you, strong than you, or even just bigger than you. Starting out, you’re probably going to be submitted a lot. For some, this is a huge ego buster. These people will either quit shortly after or ramp up the intensity in order to compensate. Neither of these groups are doing themselves any good. 

Just like anything, you have to suck before you can get better. The quicker we all realize this fact, the easier it is to be submitted. Because then we know that while it’s fun for everything to click and to be able to submit someone else, we have to lose to learn. Without losing, without being uncomfortable we don’t learn anything. It’s so easy to let your ego get in the way of learning something new and difficult, but the quicker you knock it down, the more fun you’ll have.

Sometimes we are stronger than we realize.

Oftentimes, young women are raised to feel helpless or weak. While my parents never actively did this, I was friends with young women who were taught this and therefore picked up those thought patterns. College definitely started the process of breaking those thoughts, but BJJ really showed me I am stronger than I realized. 

BJJ’s main focus is typically physics. Using momentum and angles in order to gain control or submit your opponent. It’s the kind of martial art where smaller people can submit larger people simply through technique. Because of this, I’ve learned that not only do I have more physical strength than I realized, I can handle myself among people bigger than me. I can handle myself in a situation where I could easily panic, but instead have learned to remain calm and quickly analyze my options.

To get to that point, you need to focus on the process, not the results. 

BJJ can be a long and arduous journey. It’s not like other martial arts where you test every so many months or weeks and get awarded a new belt color. Instead, many BJJ schools award their belts as they see fit. It can take years to move from one color to the next, take a decade or more to go from white,the lowest, to black, the highest. And oftentimes, you have no idea where you are in your coach’s eyes as far as progress goes.

Learning to focus on the process of learning BJJ rather than trying to achieve a belt will enhance your experience. You’ll have taken away another aspect of ego from the sport. Frequently people will quit because they can’t measure their progress or they feel they aren’t progressing fast enough to that next belt. This type of focus can mean your progress will stagnate. By only worrying about your next achievement you miss the learning that could be done in that time.

Also, remember that showing up is half the battle of learning something new. Just being there, getting yourself out the door, on the mat or whatever it may be, is the biggest, most important step you can take.

In the end, while I am no expert at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, I can say that it has taught me a lot. I encourage you to check out your nearest BJJ gym and see what it can do for you.

Quick Take: Born to Run Review

I’ve been running for about five years now. It was my first foray into fitness and exercise after being a mostly sedentary teen and college student. After my first 5k, I haven’t looked back since. 

Since integrating running into my life I have increasingly become interested in science and history of running. This is where Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Ever Seen by Christopher McDougall comes in. 

The book explores theories on the origins of running as well as exploring the reclusive Tarahumara tribe of Mexico. The author delves into these topics after experiencing injury after injury related to his running. Determined, he sets out on a solution to running related injuries that isn’t the typical “Just quit running”. If you remember the Vibram, minimal shoe trend, this book is sourced as one of the origins of this. 

This book takes a fascinating look at the Tarahumara tribe, following them through a series of races and an exploration of their culture and history. The book also looks at the origins of the endurance running hypothesis and how early man may have used running as a way to hunt. He also follows several ultra runners and their sometimes unconventional methods to becoming the best at their sport.

My only complaint about this book was that I went into it thinking it was going to be more of an exploration of the origins of running as an aspect of the human experience and the mechanics of running. Instead, I found it to be more about the author and his experiences with the Tarahumara as well as meeting and interacting with quirky and interesting runners. It seemed as though 75% of the book was focused on these topics instead of what I went into the book expecting. With that said, I found this novel to be a fascinating dive into the world of ultra running that, at the time it was published, was more of a secret society. 

All in all, I recommend this if you like non-fiction or running related books. It was a fun ride, but in my opinion, don’t expect too much science and background.

Simple Ways to Get Fit and Healthy

Oftentimes, when we want to start exercising or eating differently, we make all these plans, sometimes buying all these new gadgets or foods, or getting a gym membership. The first day might go great, rough albeit, but good. The second day is more of a struggle, and eventually three, four, five days down the road, we give up. For some it can take a bit longer to hit this wall, for others, starting is the biggest hurdle. It’s not as if we don’t want these things, but then why is it so hard to follow through with fitness and health goals? As someone who struggled with following up on my workout and nutrition dreams, these are a few things I did in order to finally start accomplishing what I had set out to.

Don’t Go All Out

So many times we set goals with the intention of going full force into whatever we need to do. Go to the gym 6 times a week, eat only fruits and vegetables, walk 10,000 steps a day, run every single day, and drink a gallon of water a day. But then, inevitably, we falter or we just can’t keep up with all the things we wanted to accomplish. So we give up. Then some time later, we try it all over again, only to repeat the cycle. As someone who has had these same experiences, I don’t recommend jumping onto every aspect of your goal right off the bat. Instead start with the idea of just forming a habit, or incorporating something small and simple into your routine. If you have a goal of working out everyday for an hour, but you struggle to keep this goal, try something small and manageable. Say, “I will go for a 10 minute walk around my neighborhood” or “I will do a 10 minute workout video everyday”. Pair it with another task that you normally do. This is called habit stacking. After dinner, I will go for a walk, or after I brush my teeth, I will do 10 minutes of yoga. This is more likely to help build a habit that you can then build and grow into something more, like walking 30 minutes a day or cooking healthy dinners 6 days of the week.

Set Yourself Up For Success

I remember reading about this tip in Atomic Habits by James Clear. It has become one of my favorite suggestions from his book. Remove things and situations that will take you away from your goals. By taking away the option to eat unhealthy food, you increase your chances of eating the healthy food you have in your house. Sleeping in your workout clothes makes it more likely that you will get up and work out in the morning. Prepping your gym bag before you workout, prepping your food ahead of time, these are all great ways to improve your chances of following through with your goals. 

Find Activity Anywhere

Every little bit counts and can boost your overall health. Parking a little further away than you would normally, so that you can walk. Obviously do this within safety and reason. Finding stairs to take instead of the elevator. Using commercials or breaks to stretch. By reframing those little moments, this can not only help you add a bit more healthy movement into your day, it can also help you flex your willpower muscle. When you exercise willpower in this way but shifting your habits and thoughts, it helps to gradually shift your habits and thoughts in other parts of your life.  You will start seeing new opportunities for health and wellness start popping up the longer you practice self-discipline.

Do not restrict yourself

In regards to things like food and lazing around when we start our health journeys, we will sometimes heavily restrict these things. Many times, this can lead to destructive behaviors and creating negative feelings of self worth. Instead, start practicing moderation. Instead of saying, absolutely no potato chips, start practicing putting only a handful of chips on a plate with other healthy foods. Instead of banning take out from your house, make it a special meal once or twice a week. This sort of thing takes practice, patience and self-reflection. This is where awareness of oneself and your thoughts will be very important. Learning to be kind to yourself and allowing room for mistakes and growth are very important when we pursue goals, especially one like health and fitness. Oftentimes we have histories of falling off the wagon and punishing ourselves mentally. I myself found that by slowly incorporating foods that I knew were nutritious into my daily diet, I would have a better foundation going forward for a healthy diet. I would place on my daily to do list “Eat 1 serving of fruit”. It might seem silly, but in the long run, it has helped me to not only eat more fruit, but to also enjoy it more.

Beware of Social Media

While social media can provide great inspiration and sometimes provides a community that you find support in, it can also end up as a black hole that we can lose ourselves in. Remember that fitness influencers and creators are paid to be fit and look a certain way. While some have good intentions, others do not. While some have legitimate credentials in order to give advice, many others do not have the correct credentials to be giving advice. Be picky with who you follow and be mindful so that you don’t lose yourself in a social media whole. We can quickly get down on ourselves when seeing the most perfect version of someone who is at a different point in their journey to us. 

Change is Hard

Remember that lifestyle changes can be hard, and that’s okay! Even if we make small changes like I recommended at the beginning, it can still be hard. If you want to run a 5k, there will be some initial discomfort when you start running, especially if you weren’t a runner before. If you want to start building muscle, but haven’t lifted weights before, you will experience muscle soreness for a while. Trying to eat healthy after eating junk food for a period of time? You’ll probably experience cravings and grumpiness. And that’s all okay. That’s why I recommend starting small, it’ll be less of a shock to your system and you’ll be more likely to succeed as you start to build on your new habits.

Health is a long term goal, not something that can be achieved overnight. It is not something you do accomplish and never have to think about again. This is a marathon and not a sprint. Learning to love cooking and moving are big parts of the journey. These tips are just meant to help make your journey a bit easier. 

Check out my Etsy Shop for a workout planner and a running planner to help with your health journey!